Deshaun Watson Loses Nike Endorsement Deal

This morning, Nike decided to suspend relations with Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson amidst accusations made towards him– involving numerous sexual assault charges.

So far, Watson is facing 22 allegations of sexual assault from his former female massage therapists. Many of them have come forward anonymously, but Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley have come forward and identified themselves in attempt to encourages more of those involved to do the same.

Although the incidents are all allegations yet to be proven true, the amount of women involved (18 who claim Watson was professional and 22 who said he acted inappropriately) is alarming and the details provided in each case have been disturbing to read. Now, with outside parties like Nike feeling the need to suspend their endorsement deal, it’s starting to feel like their is a legitimate case towards Watson.

One would hope that such an influential figure in sports wouldn’t behave in the manner that Watson has allegedly behaved, but things appear to look worse each day.

For more details on specific cases, you can look here.

Ranking the Top 5 QBs in the 2021 NFL Draft

In the NFL draft, quarterback prospects are always under the spotlight and are seen as the most valuable position in football. This year is certainly no exception with guys like Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Zach Wilson in the mix.

Fans love it when their team has a high draft pick and can grab themselves a QB early on to build around. So, with a draft loaded with throwing talent and several teams looking for someone to fill their starting QB spot, lets take a look at and rank the five guys who will likely get taken in the first round:

Bryce’s Prospect Grading System HERE

Credit: Derick E. Hingle – USA TODAY Sports

(1) Trevor Lawrence, QB Clemson

Athleticism: 2.25/3

I think Trevor is an above average athlete for a 6ft 6 QB. He moves outside the pocket well, has the ability to run and make plays, and has a gifted arm– throwing the ball with power and precision.

In comparison to some NFL QBs and other prospects in this draft, I consider him a great athlete, but not elite. He has a strong arm and is fairly mobile, but doesn’t quite have the speed or downhill footwork that some others do.

Film: 3/3

Watching Lawrence’s game tape is a GM’s dream if he needs a QB. He consistently makes big plays at the right time, rarely makes ANY mistakes, and has minimal games where his performance is significantly worse than other games.

With a near perfect record throughout his career at Clemson (34-2) and his consistency as a big time performer (NCG Win, 3x ACC Champion, and playoff appearances all three seasons at Clemson), Lawrence gets a perfect score for the film category section easily.

Talent: 2.85/3

To be an NFL QB you need to be consistent, intelligent, and fundamentally sound– Lawrence possesses all of that already and can only get better with NFL coaching.

As a passer, he is poised and comfortable making decisions in the pocket, and also can sometimes extend the play with his feet. He has excellent power, touch, and accuracy throwing at any level of the field. Trevor makes good reads, throws confidently, and rarely makes mistakes (only 17 interceptions over 3 seasons and 1,138 pass attempts).

A flaw in his game would involve his accuracy on the run and his ability to slide. As a top QB prospect who will likely start immediately, he needs to learn to slide and protect his body, while also being more consistent throwing on the move.

Competition: 0.8/1

Lawrence played in the ACC, which is tough football but not as competitive as the Big10 or SEC. However, his ability to win OOC matchups, make the playoffs three years in a row, and win a national title largely makes up for that.

Overall: 89/100

Trevor is my highest graded QB (next highest grades at a 79), and should be the first QB taken in the draft. I think he has an extremely high ceiling and can produce efficiently at the next level right away. He has extremely coachable flaws and should be a great NFL QB.

Prospect Comparison: Andrew Luck


(Courtesy of BYU Photo)

(2) Zach Wilson, QB BYU

Athleticism: 1.8/3

As a QB he has excellent arm talent (can make any throw he wants) and can move around well enough to escape pressure, but his footwork needs some work and it impacts his ability to make throws to the sideline.

Some scouts may question his throwing mechanics, but I think the modern NFL QB can do things their own way and get away with it (see: Patrick Mahomes). He will need some coaching to help with his mechanically related misfires, but overall I don’t mind his style.

Zach doesn’t possess exciting agility or speed, which brings his grade down due to the athleticism of other QB prospects in this draft, but his arm talent and abilities as a passer keep him in the average-great range.

Film: 2.65/3

Zach is one of the more talented throwers to enter the draft in a while. He hasn’t had as decorated of a career as Trevor Lawrence, but he put BYU on a national stage this season with his incredible throwing talents.

Wilson has the best touch pass and deep ball in this draft in my opinion, and I think with some coaching help, he can make every single type of throw on the football field.

As much as I love the potential of this kid, he did have some games where he made more mistakes than you’d like to see and he has some flaws he needs to work on. For example, he would often get lazy with his play action fakes. As an evaluator, you want to see a prospect (especially a QB) do all the little things right.

Talent: 2.35/3

Zach is a very intelligent, decisive passer who gobs with potential, but I think he is still a bit raw and needs some work under a good set of coaches to be elite in the NFL.

He does possess the ability to extend plays, make throws on the run, and slide when necessary, which helps his score a bit. Plus, he is calm and very patent in the pocket– always keeping his eyes downfield to make a play. He rarely settles.

Competition: 0.55/1

Playing at a small school in the FBS Independent Conference hurts his competition score. However, his performance against a few ranked schools this season (see stats/opponents here) and a Boca Raton Bowl Game win keeps him in the average competition level.

Overall: 73.5/100

In terms of my prospect grading system, Wilson ranks 3rd among QBs. However, I’m ranking each prospect based on who I would personally draft.

With the right coaching and support, Wilson could be very special in the NFL. He may not play right away, but when he does he could be the next great QB in football.

Patrick Mahomes is the new “standard” for QBs and GMs will always look for prospects like him to experiment with. Zach Wilson is the closest thing we’ve seen so far.

Prospect Comparison: Patrick Mahomes


Sam Hodde/Associated Press

(3) Trey Lance, QB NDSU

Athleticism: 2.8/3

In terms of QBs, Lance is by far the most gifted athlete in this class. On film, he looks like he could play RB in the NFL, and his strong arm and accuracy at all levels makes his athletic ability jump out even more.

Trey Lance is a true dual threat QB/athlete who could probably do anything on the football field, even at the NFL level. Speed, size, arm strength/talent all check out. This kid possesses elite athletic ability.

Film: 2.55/3

Now, if we based Trey’s film grade on this year alone, he would have a much lower grade. NDSU only played one game this season against Central Arkansas, but Lance performed poorly through the air (15/30 for 149 yards and 2 TDs, 1 int). He did run the ball well, but as a 2021 draft 1st-round prospect, you’d expect more.

Then again, it should be considered that this season was a little more than unordinary with COVID-19 restrictions. He played for a small FCS school who didn’t have the ability to find OOC games to play in, and instead the team opted to play in the spring (right before the draft, so Lance opted out).

If you go back and watch his 2019-2020 film, things are much more impressive. He has an occasional poor performance, but there wasn’t one that I watched that was horrific. He showed off his athletic ability on rollouts, deep throws, and RPO/Read Option plays all season long and put impressive numbers, including ZERO interceptions in nearly 300 pass attempts (see the rest here).

Talent: 2.3/3

Lance gobs with talent and potential. He is a gifted runner, has NFL-level deep throw abilities, and is excellent. Not only is he talented, but he visibly puts out 100% effort every play. he runs out fakes on read option plays, has a great play action fake, etc.

The problem lies in his abilities as a pocket passer. Lance has a tendency to either sit in the pocket way too long and eat a sack, or he looks to run way too fast without giving time for the pass play to develop. He needs big time work with coaches in terms of pocket awareness/comfort. You can’t just scramble and panic in the NFL, you need poise and patience.

I would also want Lance to work on sliding and to not take so many hits. He’s a gifted runner and should absolutely utilize that aspect of his game, but if he wants to last in the NFL, hits need to be at a minimal.

Competition: 0.45/1

One of his biggest knocks as a prospect is the fact that he plays in a low-tier conference (FCS) and doesn’t play bigger schools/highly touted NFL prospects. While finding players in small schools can work out (Carson Wentz came from NDSU and has shown h can perform in the NFL), it’s still something to keep in mind.

However, despite the level of competition, he was able to win the FCS Championship game over James Madison and Lance starred all throughout the playoff run.

Overall: 81/100

Lance’s 2019 season was electric and near perfect on film. There are flaws however, and his sole performance in this pandemic riddled 2020-21 season leaves GMS/scouts with question marks… including me.

If Trey was able to replicate or even top his performance in 2019 this year (with more games obviously), then he would most likely be my #2 ranked prospect, but with, essentially, a year gap in between his last full season and the draft, he has to fall a bit.

Prospect Comparison: Robert Griffin III


Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

(4) Justin Fields, QB Ohio State

Athleticism: 2.4/3

Fields is an excellent athlete. He can run, extend plays, and make deep throws down the field accurately. He has prospective NFL size, weight, and has next level speed to fit the mold as what used to be called “prototypical” (now I think it’s more of the “standard”).

Although he isn’t as dazzling of an athlete as (say) Trey Lance, Fields has all the tools to make it to the NFL and perform at a high level.

Film: 2.0/3

Ohio State runs a very QB friendly offense. It’s simple, effective and gets the job done. Fields excelled and flashed to many scouts with his big arm, big run plays and so on– but if you really break things down and watch really him play, I think it’s extremely apparent that he doesn’t possess the ability to read a defense or improvise when the 1st/2nd option on a throw isn’t there.

With that being said, it’s tough to trust him as an evaluator. We’ve see many QBs produce stats and win games, but then go on to flop in an NFL style offense because they can’t adjust or read defenses (Dwayne Haskins, JaMarcus Russell).

At the same time, there are flashes of excellence. The flashy moves and big play ability cannot be overlooked, and I want to give credit where it’s due but the football IQ part is something that is going to be a huge leap for him coming into the pros.

Talent: 2.2/3

There is no doubt that Justin Fields possesses NFL potential. He’s shown he can make big plays, extend plays with his legs, make accurate throws down the field, and play through big games with toughness and grit.

Fundamentally, his throwing mechanics have shown to hurt his accuracy however, and his release puts balls high and off target. He also needs work with his feet (back drop is flat footed sometimes) and his presence in the pocket (appears tense and jittery). At the same time, improving his throwing motion, speed, and feet will help him add zip to his throws, as he often floats passes too often. In the NFL a lot of those will be INTs.

As a runner, Fields excels. I think the best aspect of his game is that he can make big plays running the rock and he can throw on the run at a very high level.

Competition: 0.7/1

Fields played in the Big 10, which is debatably one of the toughest conferences in football. Ohio State had a limited schedule with COVID, but Fields was able to lead wins over Penn State, #11 Indiana, #14 Northwestern, and then #2 Clemson in the College Football Playoffs. Fields made it to the National Championship game where he fell short to top ranked Alabama, which is a top class football team with a ton of NFL prospects on roster.

Overall: 73/100

Fields has very, very raw talent and has proven he can win games against top tier competition. However, he grades as my #4 ranked QB due to his inability to make next level decisions and his awkward mechanics as a thrower. He could prove me wrong and succeed in the NFL, but as of right now, I think there are 3 QBs that are much more ready for the NFL and have higher ceilings overall.

Prospect Comparison: Cam Newton


(Photo by Andrew Ferguson/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)

(5) Mac Jones, QB Alabama

Athleticism: 1.5/3

Jones is a very average athlete. He isn’t a great runner, but has shown ability to escape pressure and make some decent passes on the run. He also has pretty average arm strength (though the accuracy isn’t quite there on deep throws).

Especially in comparison to the other QBs in this draft, there is definitely no “wow” factor in terms of Mac’s athleticism.

Film: 2.45/3

Jones actually has pretty decent tape. He has shown the ability to be an efficient, intelligent passer for top ranked Bama. He can make throws on the run, throw it deep, and has good short range accuracy. However, he isn’t as talented with his arm in comparison to other prospects in this draft.

His fine play and minimal mistakes helps his draft case a lot.

Talent: 1.85/3

In the other four QB prospects that I went through, there was obvious or flashes of excellence in their game. I never saw that or felt that with Mac Jones.

Mac is limited athletically, and although he makes good decisions, it needs to be understood that he had world class athletes all around him at Alabama. Yes he will in the NFL as well, but the competition and speed of the game is much different than college ball.

I think he has all the tools to be in the NFL, but is he worthy of a 1st round pick?

Competition: 1/1

Personally, I think the SEC is the toughest football conference in the nation and Bama swept through it. They went undefeated while beating #5 Texas A&M, #9 Georgia, defending champs LSU, #7 Florida, #4 Notre Dame, and #3 Ohio State.

At the very least, Mac had the hardest overall schedule and still won a national title. That can’t be ignored.

Overall: 68/100

To me, Mac Jones will be a back up QB for most teams, a starter of some. He can probably win you some games with his precise decision making, but does he push you to be a playoff or Super Bowl contender? I think not.

Jones is a decent QB with enough talent to play in the NFL, but he is nowhere near the same level of the other 4 guys on my list. Don’t buy the hype on social media or form his Pro-Day.

Prospect Comparison: A. J. McCarron


Patriots FA Spending Almost Totals Kraft’s Purchase of the Team: Free Agent Update 3/24/21

After another 12 days of free agency madness, here are some of the most notable NFL Free Agency signings:

3/14:

Packers are able to retain star RB Aaron Jones to help Aaron Rogers and the offense out with a strong running game (4 years 48 million).

49ers keep their utility FB Kyle Jusczcyk (5 years 27 million).


3/15:

Journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick signs with the Washington Football Team to fill their starting pass thrower void as a short term answer (1 year 10 million).

Vikings look to beef up their front seven with the addition of DT Dalvin Tomlinson (2 years 20 million).

Saints are giving QB Jameis Winston a shot at filling in Drew Brees’ shoes as their starter (1 year 12 million).

Titans sign EDGE rusher Bud Dupree to try and beef up one of the poorer pass rushing defense in the league (5 year 82.5 million).

Patriots shock the football world with a total roster makeover by signing the following players all in one day (they make more moves throughout the week to reach a total of $162.5 million…which is just under 10 million shy of what owner Robert Kraft spent to buy the team in 94′):

  • TE Jonnu Smith (4 year 50 million)
  • DB Jalen Mills (4 year 24 million)
  • OLB/EDGE Matthew Judon (4 year 56 million)
  • WR Nelson Agholor (2 year 26 million)
  • WR Kendrick Bourne (3 year 22.5 million)
  • DL Henry Anderson (2 year 7 million)

Ravens sign G Kevin Zeitler to help protect Lamar Jackson (3 year 22.5 million).

Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are able to resign star EDGE player Shaq Barrett (4 years 72 million) and TE Rob Gronkowski (1 year 10 million).

G Joe Thuney signs with Kansas City to help their quest to fix their offensive line issues (5 years 80 million).

The Chargers are able to poach All-Pro Center Corey Linsley from Green Bay to help protect Justin Herbert (5 years 62.5 million).

The Jets are able to add rising star WR Corey Davis to help out Sam Darnold or whoever they decide to draft at QB (3 year 37.5 million).


3/16:

Jaguars bring in former Seahawks DB Shaquill Griffin to pair with 2020 1st round pick CJ Henderson in the secondary (3 year 45 million).

New York Giants finally pull the trigger and re-sign star DL Leonard Williams to anchor their front seven (3 year 63 million), while also adding former Washington standout and Bengals 1st round selection, WR John Ross (1 year 2.5 million).

Another move for Washington as they bolster up their already good defense by adding DB William Jackson III (3 year 42 million).

2020 1st round selection QB Tua Tagovailoa now has some competition in Miami as they sign former Colts starter Jacoby Brissett (1 year 7.5 million).

Jaguars bring in WR Marvin Jones to presumably serve as the lead veteran player to help the guy they draft first overall at QB (2 year 14.5 million).

Patriots with another HUGE offensive signing by bringing in TE Hunter Henry (3 year 37.5 million).


3/17:

LB Kyle Van Noy returns to the Patriots after 1 year with Miami (3 years 13.2 million).

WR Emmanuel Sanders lands in Buffalo to replace John Brown (1 year 6 million).

Vikings land star DB Patrick Peterson to help step up and recharge this Vikings defense (1 year 10 million).

WR Curtis Samuel pairs up with Terry McLaurin to add to their offensive arsenal in Washington (3 year 34.5 million).

After testing the open market, OT Trent Williams signs a historic contract to stay in San Fran (6 year 138 million).

Former Cincy star, WR A.J Green, signs a deal to pair up with DeAndre Hopkins and Kyler Murray in Arizona (1 year 8.5 million) while also trading for C Rodney Hudson.

After suffering a season ending achilles injury in a contract year, RB Marlon Mack decides to stick it out on a prove it type deal with the Colts (1 year 2 million).

Kansas City’s status as a contender with a need for O-Line play has convinced G Kyle Long to come out of retirement to protect Mahomes (1 year 5 million).

Carolina continues to build up a core of young defensive talent, this time bringing in OLB/EDGE player Haason Reddick (1 year 8 million).


3/18:

C Alex Mack reunites with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco (3 year 15 million).

Bears release CB Kyle Fuller in a surprising move, and he ends up signing with Denver shortly after (1 year 9.5 million).

Raiders add RB depth to pair with Josh Jacobs by adding Kenyan Drake (2 year 11 million).

Miami adds some more speed to it’s WR group with Will Fuller (1 year 10 million).


3/19:

Broncos resign star DB Justin Simmons, who has been on the field for Denver for the last 3,200 snaps (4 year 61 million).

WR Juju Smith-Schuster tested the waters for a bit, but decided to stay with Pittsburgh for the season ( 1 year 8 million).

Patriots make another move to add LB depth with Raekwon McMillan (1 year 1 million).

After being cut by the Titans, CB Adoree Jackson signs with the Giants in effort to help out their young defense (3 year 39 million).

Philadelphia, with a ton of holes to fill, brings in one of the highest graded safeties in the league with DB Anthony Harris (1 year 5 million).


3/20:

Standout Safety Keanu Neal signs with the Cowboys as they try to regroup their young, struggling defensive unit (1 year 5 million).

Giants are finally able to bring in another top tier offensive weapon to group with Saquon Barkley with WR Kenny Golladay (4 year 72 million).

After a solid season under a prove deal with the Colts, CB Xavier Rhodes stays in Indy (1 year 6.5 million).


3/21:

The Jets continue to find help along their front seven by bringing in DT Sheldon Rankins to pair with Quinnen Williams up front (2 year 17 million).

The Rams make a move to add some WR depth with speedster DeSean Jackson (1 year deal).

Biggest ‘Winners and Losers’ of the 2021 NFL Offseason So Far

As of March 17th, all NFL offseason trades and signings became official– but we all know that stuff was happening all over the NFL beforehand.

There’s been a ton of surprising moves that have made this offseason exciting and kept guys like Adam Schefter plenty busy on Twitter, but excitement doesn’t always add up to success. We’ve seen teams spend big in FA flop the following season.

With that being said, let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this offseason period so far:


MediaNews Group RM

New England Patriots:

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock avoiding pro-football related news, then you probably know about the gigantic splash that the Patriots have made over the course of just a few days.

Getting some key-returning starters back and healthy for his defense wasn’t good enough. Belichick went out and signed stand out pass rusher Matthew Judon, an underrated interior defensive lineman in Davon Godchaux, and veteran DB Jalen mills. Not to mention they were able to claim LB Kyle Van Noy after he was released from Miami.

Yes, the team shelled out a good chunk of money, but all of these guys will most likely start on this defense and have a sizeable impact. Plus, I think that they were able to get impactful players at the correct value, without over-paying at all.

Offensively, the Patriots really struggled to score last season. Cam Newton came over as a free agency and showed some promise as a dual threat early in the season, but things slowed down as he lost some key pieces due to injury and COVID throughout the season (WR Julian Edelman, Sony Michel, Marcus Cannon, etc.). So, the team went out and made sure to sure up the offensive side of the ball too.

Right off the bat, New England traded for Raiders OT Trent Brown and went out and signed the former Titans TE Jonnu Smith. Then, signed WRs Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, and another stud TE in Hunter Henry– all on top of keeping former MVP QB Cam Newton with the team. They also signed C Ted Karras.

Within just a few days, New England was able to solidify all 3 levels of their defense and provide Cam Newton some legitimate weapons to work with on offense.

A lot will say the Patriots spent too much money, but I really feel like these were big time moves to put them back on the playoff potential radar in the AFC.

The Patriots have definitely been winners so far.


Getty Images

Tennessee Titans:

Personally, I think the Titans have a very narrow window in which they can win a Super Bowl. Offense is their strong point, but how much longer can Derrick Henry run for 2,000 yards and touch the ball 400 times a season? How much longer can 32 year old Ryan Tannehill sling the ball 50 yards downfield? Well the key for longevity in the NFL in terms of championship contention is to be perfect in the off-season (trades, FA signings, and the draft).

So far, the Titans have lost key weapons in Jonnu Smith, Corey Davis, and 2020 first round selection Isaiah Wilson, which is not a good start.

In attempt to rebuild their defense, the Titans were able to bring back LB Jayon Brown and sign veteran players in DB Janoris Jenkins and DT Denico Autry.

However, they also signed ex-Steeler edge rusher Bud Dupree to a huge 5-year, 85 million dollar deal, which I think is very over priced for a guy with his production rate. In six years with Pittsburgh, he has only had double digit sacks once and had more than 40 tackles (as a LB) twice. Last season his overall player grade ranks in the “middle of the pack” at 60.2 (ProFootballFocus). It’s also important to mention that Dupree has largely been successful due to his unique athletic ability, and coming off a torn ACL last season may be harmful to his production.

In terms of his inconsistency, his recent injury, and the downgrade in relation to the talent around him on defense– paying him high-end pass rush money could prove to be harmful for the Titans if it doesn’t work out.

The Titans still need to bolster their secondary after they cut Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler… Janoris Jenkins will not be enough to hold up that unit.

Based on the significant players they’ve lost on both sides of the ball, and the huge risk they took on Dupree, I have to grade this as a loss so far.


(AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

Washington Football Team:

At the start of this offseason, it was very plausible to say that Washington is ready to contend for a Super Bowl. They have one of the absolute best front sevens in the NFL, an elite weapon offensively in Terry McLaurin, and an extremely intelligent HC in Ron Rivera.

Don’t forget: This team gave the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers trouble in the first round of the playoffs… with Taylor Heinicke at QB.

So far, Washington found a way to improve their already dominant defense by adding William Jackson to the secondary to fill out an already solid unit featuring S Landon Collins and CB Kendall Fuller. Jackson was ranked in the top 20 by Pro Football Focus in terms of DB grades last season.

Offensively, WFT was able to sign playmaking WR Curtis Samuel and veteran RB Lamar Miller to pair with the likes of Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson– which ultimately expands the array of weapons they can use offensively.

Now, maybe the biggest signing they’ve made addresses the QB position. Despite bouncing around the NFL, Ryan Fitzpatrick has proven himself to be a VERY serviceable QB and can win games while being efficient. With a roster that is good enough to win now, and based on what we saw this team do with the combination of Alex Smith (coming off a severe, career threatening injury), Taylor Heinicke, Dwayne Haskins, and Kyle Allen– I think Fitzpatrick can have some success here as the starter.

So, with the upgrade in the secondary and the addition of several offensive weapons, plus the 19th pick in the 2021 draft– Washington was able to get better and solidify themselves as NFC East favorites. So far, they’re winners.


AP Photos

Chicago Bears:

For the past few years, Chicago has had chances to be great. They have elite players all over their defense, and big time play makers in David Montgomery, Allen Robinson, and Tarik Cohen on offense. However, QB Mitchell Trubisky never really worked out and the team was never able to recover from their “double doink” playoff loss to Philly in 2019.

With an elite QB to help out a very average offense (with some play makers and a poor offensive line), this team could definitely re-open it’s window to win a championship. They’ve even been in talks for major QB trade prospects Carson Wentz and Russell Wilson, but were unable to secure a trade for either.

Instead, they settled for… Andy Dalton.

The team was able to retain a few key starters, but I think they actually downgraded from Mitch Trubisky in terms of what their offense needs in a QB to be successful. At the very least, Trubisky was mobile and could extend plays. Dalton is a pure pocket passer with limited ability to create and distribute by using his legs, which puts their offense at a severe disadvantage– especially when you see how bad their offensive line play has been.

A very conservative, lack luster off-season has to be seen as a loss for the Bears, as their SB hopes with the core of this roster dwindling fast.


Of all the teams so far, these are the 4 that stood out the most in terms of Winners and Losers.

Here are some of the other teams that have had good/bad off-season’s up to this point:

Winners:

Indianapolis— Resigned standout RB Marlon Mack to pair with Johnathan Taylor, traded for QB Carson Wentz to replace Phil Rivers.

Kansas City— Rebuilt their interior offensive line with OGs Joe Thuney and Kyle Long.

Miami— Added younger defensive depth in Benardrick McKinney/Justin Coleman. Brought in starting-caliber QB Jacoby Brissett, proven RB Malcolm Brown, and fixed major depth issues with the O-Line.

Buffalo— Added depth all over their roster- including WR Emmanuel Sanders and QB Mitch Trubisky.

LA Rams— Added Matt Stafford to potentially complete their offense and add some dynamic ability to the play calling for McVay. Also resigned pass rusher/LB Leonard Floyd.

Losers:

Philadelphia— With so many holes on this roster and the team being in so much cap trouble, they need to make some more moves to give themselves some flexibility moving forward with their rebuild. You can’t rely on Howie Roseman’s drafting ability to supplement talent on this roster… which would scare me as an Eagles fan. Although they haven’t done anything horrible, you can’t really call this off-season a success right?

Green Bay-– Last season the Packers lost to the eventual SB champion Buccaneers, but this off-season they lost some valuable pieces in RB Jamaal Williams, C Corey Linsley, and starting LB Christian Kirksey. In response, they haven’t done anything aside from retain Aaron Jones. If they want to extend their SB contention status, GB needs to fill these holes and add some more offensive talent around Adams, Jones, and Aaron Rogers if they want to make another deep run.

Seattle— While they have made a few decent trades/re-signings, Seattle is in trouble with discussion of Russell Wilson wanting to be traded. If they can’t figure out a way to protect their QB and provide him with an adequate enough roster to win, they will most likely have to trade him next off-season… Making your franchise QB upset is not a good way to start the new NFL year.

2021 Midwest Region Breakdown

The Bloodbath Region

Ayo Dosunmu vs. Cade Cunningham Sweet 16 matchup? Hold your horses Oklahoma St. fans, there is a log jam in the first round of this region. There are so many games to look at in the Midwest, but let’s look at two games with particular spoiler potential. Loyola-Chicago (8) vs. Georgia Tech (9) and then, let’s go with some Cinderella dreams with Liberty (13) vs. Oklahoma St. (4). 

Deeper Dive into Loyola-Chicago (8) vs. Georgia Tech (9):

Sister Jean is happy to be dancing again, but the ACC tournament champion Yellow Jackets are magma hot at the end of their season. Tech has won 8 straight, including topping a talented Florida St. team to win the ACC tournament. Led by two Seniors, Forward Moses Wright, and Guard Jose Alvarado. Isolations from their backcourt and above average 3pt shooting make them a dangerous matchup. Alvarado himself averaging 4.5 3PA a game and hitting them at a 39% clip, while playing with energy on the defensive side of the floor. The average height on this team is 6-4. So, they like to run and gun, and the stats show with 75.5 PPG to 70.0 Opponent PPG. The Yellow Jackets will need to be red hot to top possibly the best 8 seed in the nation.

Loyola-Chicago also won their conference tournament, but they are looking to find the magic slipper they had in 2017-2018 when they danced their way into the Final Four. They play a tough pack-line defense, that gives up an astounding 55.5 PPG, making them the best in the Nation. That stat will meet some skepticism as it is inflated by their weak conference, but do not incorrectly assume this team can’t defend. Plus, this is a matchup nightmare for Tech, as the Ramblers love to dump the ball inside to their Senior big man Cameron Krutwig. Krutwig leads the team in PPG with 15. If Loyola-Chicago wants to win they need the same production from Krutwig. This should be a great game, and I am going with the Loyola-Chicago here because of that superior defense and their ability to get points in the frontcourt against this undersized Georgia Tech team. Hopefully for Sister Jean, Loyola will keep dancing.

Oklahoma St. (4) vs. Liberty (13):

The popular 13 seed over 4 seed is strong in this one. The Liberty Flames have the recipe for a team that can bust brackets. The Flames could not be more appropriately named. As they are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country. 4 out of the 5 starters on the Flames shoot at least 37% from downtown. If these shooters can get hot the Cowboys will be in deep trouble. The Flames match their deep 3-point shooters, with stifling defense. They only allow 59.6 PPG and are cruising as of late winning their last 12 straight. Calling this game an easy Cowboys win would be a mistake.

On the other side, this is a talented Oklahoma St. team, boasting the player with the potential to takeover this tournament. Cade Cunningham might be the most valuable player to any singular team this March. His 20.2 PPG on 45% FG% leads the team. This an Oklahoma St. team that will hope to get their backcourt going early and often to stave off the hot shooting from the Flames. I am leaning towards the Flames here, but this can truly come down to the last possession. Oklahoma St. could run out of options if the Flames play their tight defense and shoot the rock like they have all season.

Other Interesting Matchups:

Syracuse (11) vs. San Diego St. (6)- Always be wary of the sneaky Syracuse 2-3 zone in March. Without the capable players, San Diego St. could be in for a tough matchup.

Clemson (7) vs. Rutgers (10)- Rutgers has some solid players in the backcourt with Ron Harper Jr., and Jakob Young. Plus, some solid wins in the Big 10 this year. This is a tough game to call because of both teams’ inconsistencies throughout the season. I think Rutgers has a more talented roster and Clemson must be reeling a bit after a loss to a bad Miami team in the ACC tournament.

What Would You Trade for Deshaun Watson? NFL QB Trade Value: 2021 Offseason

On March 17th, the first big splash of the NFL offseason will be official. Long time Detroit Lions QB, Matthew Stafford, will officially be traded to the LA Rams for two future 1st Round picks, a future 3rd, and QB Jared Goff.

While this move is pivotal for both franchises (Detroit gets a young QB to potentially build around & a surplus of essential draft picks and LA gets a QB they think reinforces their status as contenders in the NFC again), what most don’t realize is how important this move was for the QB market all around the league, and with so many different QBs on the market this offseason, it made me wonder what they be worth based on what the Rams gave up for Stafford.

Teddy Bridgewater

There’s a lot to factor in with Teddy. You need to remember that he had one of the more brutal, unfortunate knee injuries in recent memory and it took him a long time before he could even step back on to the football field.

Pre-injury, I thought he had potential to be a middle of the pack, top 15 starter in the league that could guide the right team into possible contention. That’s a tough call now though after he played 15 games and threw 11 interceptions to 15 touchdowns.

The upside here is he had a solid 3,700 yards passing and this was his first full season as a starter in FIVE years. There’s certainly a chance that he could shake the rust off and change that TD:INT ratio in a positive fashion. Keep in mind, he’s also only 28 and could be serviceable for another 5 years or so at least.

There are pros and cons here to making a move to get Teddy, but I could see a rebuilding team with a solid foundation take a chance to see what they could do. Most likely a team with a late 1st round selection that won’t get any of the best prospects, but needs a starter would be willing to deal a 3rd round pick to fill the gap for at least a year or two. Carolina could also package Teddy and their 8th overall pick to make a move on a veteran guy they like or to accumulate more future picks.

Face Value: 3rd round pick

Potential Fits: New England, Minnesota, Washington

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

Carson Wentz

One of the hottest stories since the end of the regular season (and before that even) was the dispute between former Philly HC Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz. It seems as though the two had an “unrepairable” relationship and Wentz wanted out.

Even with the firing of Pederson and the hiring of Nick Sirianni, it seems like Wentz still wants to be traded. It was even discussed that he would be gone within a week or two following the Super Bowl, but we’re still waiting on that to happen. I hate to ask, but what do you even give up for a guy who showed MVP, top 5 QB potential, but has struggled ever since a knee injury that has hindered his performance greatly the past 3 years?

Let’s think about it. Wentz, as I mentioned, has had MVP potential, so the reward there can be extremely high value, but there can also be minimal value after we saw Wentz struggle throughout the entirety of 2020-2021 and eventually be benched in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts. There’s even rumor that Wentz is “uncoachable” and “stubborn”, making him very incompatible with any coach whose there to try and help him improve mechanics, decision making, etc. These, of course, are rumors and impossible to confirm as an outsider.

We also need to factor in how terrible the roster is for the Eagles since their Super Bowl victory. The offensive line has quickly digressed since their elite 2017 campaign, and so has the receiving corps. So many times, Wentz would be stuck with a handful of practice squad players and (seemingly) an unmotivated Zach Ertz to throw to, which isn’t an ideal situation for ANY quarterback. On top of the downfall from the Super Bowl winning players, GM Howie Roseman has proven to the league that he may just be the worst talent evaluator and drafting executive in the NFL. A team deep in salary trouble, no weapons outside of Miles Sanders and two tight ends, and one of the most inconsistent defenses in the NFL with a GM who fails year in and year out to fill the roster out with youthful talent…. who would want to be here?

I think Wentz has value. He’s 28, has shown flashes of being elite, and (with the right coaching and line situation) I think he can take a team to the Super Bowl. Yes, he has tons of room to prove, but if you’re a win now team and think you’re a QB away, Wentz is proven and wouldn’t cost as much as, say, Deshaun Watson (see below).

I still think Wentz would be worth a shot to spend a 1st round pick, and maybe one or two later or future picks, especially if he restructures his expensive contract and has a much less cap hit. You get a solid QB with all the right intangibles of a modern NFL quarterback with a possibility to be elite in the right situation. Is he much more of a risk than any of the prospects in the draft?

Face Value: 1st round pick + future 3rd/4th

Potential Fits: Chicago, Indianapolis, San Francisco

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Sam Darnold

Darnold was one of my absolute favorite prospects of the 2018 draft class, but has yet to live up to his potential. He has all the right tools and has significantly improved on his decision making skills since entering the league, but I believe has been held back by an incompetent coaching staff and a lack of talent around him. Since Darnold was drafted, the Jets have ranked 25th (2018), 28th (2019), 29th (2020) in offensive line grades per Pro Football Focus. You add that on top of the lack of offensive weapons and the trading of key defensive players (Jamal Adams and Leonard Williams), and you have one terrible roster.

I think Darnold is still extremely valuable as a trade target. He’s still only 23 years old ( a kid in the NFL) and can be extremely accurate and intelligent with the ball when protected. His stats are not good (only one season with more than 3k yards, career TD: INT is 45:39), but he has so much time to improve and rise to his potential stardom. If you’ve watched any Jets games, you know this kid has something to him that has yet to really be unleashed with the current state of the Jets.

Essentially, trading for Darnold isn’t much different than taking a rookie in the draft– only Sam has three seasons of NFL starter experience. I would also probably draft him over any of the prospects not named Trevor Lawrence. Give this kid a line and some decent coaching and see what he can do. The Jets will likely expect some compensation considering what they gave up to get him in the first place, but a package of 2-3 picks could help a team avoid paying a 1st rounder… WHICH IS A STEAL.

Face Value: 2nd Round pick + 3rd round pick + 6th round pick

Potential Fits: Indianapolis, Washington, New England

Russell Wilson

Now, this is one of the more interesting storylines of the offseason so far. There’s word that Wilson is extremely frustrated with Seattle’s inability to provide a stable offensive line and may ask for a trade. I don’t really think it happens this year, but if the trend continues into the 2021 season, I think there’s a big chance he leaves. If that’s the case, I thought it would be fun to throw his name in the mix for this year’s QB market value estimations.

If you watch anything from the NFL (even just the top highlights), you probably know how good Wilson is. Since entering the league, Wilson has proved to be one of the very best QBs in the NFL with excellent mobility, football intelligence, and accuracy while leading Seattle to two Super Bowl appearances. He is a proven winner and elite quarterback– there is NO debate. If this guy is hinting that he wants out, I’d give up a TON to go get him. Just think, Wilson has been in the MVP conversation almost every year despite having one of the worst line protection in the league, imagine what he can do with even just decent guys upfront…

Face Value: 3 first round picks + 2nd round pick + a player of value

Potential Fits: New England, Miami, Pittsburgh

Matt Ryan

There was a time where Atlanta had a timeframe to win a championship, but that ship has sailed. Significant injuries all over the roster and the inability to maintain leads and win games has shut that window rather fast. I see a roster overhaul coming very soon, and Matt Ryan will likely be one of the first to go.

By no means do I think Matt Ryan stinks or is washed up, but I also never really thought he was elite. He did win an MVP and has had some standout years, but I would still mark only throw him in the 12-15 range in terms if QB ranking. He’s good, but no Mahomes or Rodgers or Brady or…. you get the point.

The issue with Ryan is the fact that he’s 35 years old and has a pretty big cap hit. I’m not sure how many teams would have interest in giving up assets to get him, but IF someone would show interest, I don’t think they would have to give up too much. Ideally, he would go somewhere with a solid line and weapons. He could be a cheap trade to make for a contender without a QB. Who knows what he still has in the tank.

Face Value: 4th/5th rounder + a player

Potential Fits: San Francisco, Washington, Minnesota

Image result for jimmy garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo

San Francisco is built to win RIGHT NOW, and Jimmy G is holding them back with his inability to perform in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. They need to make a change at QB and would likely package Jimmy and some picks to look for a replacement.

Between his time with the Patriots and 49ers, he has shown he can win, but thrives in very different system than Shanahan runs. What makes a deal very tough is his very unfavorable contract paired with his fairly average stats as a start in San Fran. He would likely need to restructure his deal, and San Fran would likely need to accept a loss with this experiment if they want to compete while they still have their SB ready roster mostly together.

Face Value: 5th round pick

Potential Fits: New England

Image result for deshaun watson

Deshaun Watson

The trade everyone has been waiting anxiously for. Deshaun Watson is BY FAR the best trade option available for all teams. It would be awfully hard to pass on an elite, 25 year old QB with a favorable contract (for his age and talent). I think Watson is good enough to make almost ANY team a contender right now. Aside from Mahomes, he’s the next best young stud QB in the NFL.

Watson has excellent pocket instincts and mobility, putting him in a Russell Wilson/Pat Mahomes type category when it comes down to escaping pressure and extending plays. I would even say he’s more athletic than the other two and is probably a better, natural runner with the football.

He also is super football intelligent and rarely makes mistakes (only 36 interceptions in 54 career games), and is a proven winner at all levels. With a little help on the offensive line and even just mediocre weapons on offense, and he will turn that team into an automatic playoff squad at the very least.

However, based on his no trade clause and Houston’s firm belief that they can “make it work”, it’s gonna take a lot to actually sway the Houston front office to make a deal. If Stafford was worth 2 first rounders and a 3rd plus Goff, you would need to give a TON to land a younger, better version of him.

Face Value: 3/4 first round picks + 2/3 second round picks + 2/3 late rounders

Potential Fits: San Francisco, Miami, Indianapolis

Pretender or Contender? (After Week 16)

(credit: masslive.com/AP Photo Charles Krupa)

After 16 weeks of play, the NFL post-season is really starting to take shape. Several teams in both conferences have already clinched playoffs berths, but others remain hopeful for a chance heading into week 17.

With all this on the table, we have an opportunity to predict who will snatch the last few spots and compete for a title. Have my contender picks stood strong all season? Are my pretenders still pretending? What will the 2020 NFL Playoffs look like? Let’s dive in.

For reference:

Status of a contender = having enough talent to make the playoffs and seriously compete with the best of the best in the NFL to win a championship

Status of a pretender = does NOT mean the team is bad and uncapable of winning. Instead, it is a label given to teams with talent, but without the capability of going toe to toe with contenders/secure a playoff spot.

Pretender/Contender for Teams That Have Clinched:

Of all the teams that clinched, I had previously had 5/7 listed as contenders (fairly consistently) all season long. These have been the cream of the crop all year long, but, as we know, ANYTHING can happen in the postseason. All you have to do is get into the dance, and you have a shot.

Buffalo: The Bills have shaped up to be one of my favorite picks to win the NFC. Josh Allen, to me, has been playing at an extremely high level and should be in the MVP conversation. Plus, Stefon Diggs should probably be top 3 in OPOTY votes. The Buffalo offense is extremely explosive (ranking 4th in total offense according to ESPN), and the defense has been extremely solid (top 10 or just outside of it in all major defensive stats). There are not many weaknesses on this team, but Josh Allen has been previously labeled as a QB who crumbles under pressure. We saw it last season in his wild card game against Houston. I have a feeling though that he will break that stigma and carry the Bills towards a deep playoff run. Contender.

Pittsburgh: After a dominant 11-0 stretch, the Steelers feel like they’ve fizzled out physically and mentally. The defense has suffered from some big losses due to injury. The offense has struggled to even move the ball, let alone score points. I think this team has a solid foundation, but getting cold and worn down towards the final stretch of the regular season is not a good sign– despite their heroic 2nd half performance against the Colts. They’ve looked lazy, tired, and frustrated. Barring any miraculous turn around headed into the playoffs, I really don’t see this team making a far run. I’m going to have to label them as a pretender.

Kansas City: I don’t think it comes as a surprise that Kansas City has already locked up their division and a first round bye week. They’ve been one of the most consistent offensive teams in the NFL over the past few seasons with Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes leading the way. Strangely enough, Mahomes has struggled recently. In the month of December he’s had 8TDs/4 Ints, 3 fumbles, and has recorded back to back games with 50-55% completion percentages, none of which is your typical Mahomes. Aside from this outlier month, the Chiefs have been extremely good and I expect Pat to turn things around in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Chiefs are more than likely the best team in the AFC and are surely contenders, but let’s not forget how hard it is for a team to make back to back Super Bowls…

Green Bay: The Packers have been extremely hot ever since their loss to Indianapolis 5 weeks ago, and have continued the winning streak with a blowout win over the Titans. The Green Bay offense is probably the best all around in the NFC and has shown the ability to utilize an elite rushing and passing attack where necessary. The defense is, however, just solid. They have an elite corner in Jaire Alexander with good depth in the secondary, and a talented group on the front 7 anchored by Kenny Clark. In order for the Packers to make it all the way to the championship, they need Aaron Rogers to be dominate and the defense to hold up against any of the tough offenses they’ll face in the NFC. Nonetheless, GB is an obvious contender.

New Orleans: I’m not sold on New Orleans as a winner out of the NFC. Yes, the defense has been top end in the NFL this season, but the offense has been inconsistent. Drew Brees has been banged up again this year, on top of taking on a decline in his throwing power/accuracy from last year’s thumb surgery. The line hasn’t held up either, mostly due to injury, but with a unit being so hurt all season long– is their chemistry where it should be this far into the season (let alone their conditioning and durability in a year with contactless training camp). On top of that, Michael Thomas has been extremely underwhelming (40 catches, 438 yards, ZERO touchdowns in 7 games), which is a huge hit to the Saints’ efficiency and explosiveness as an offense. Defense wins championships… so long as the offense can produce, and I’m not convinced this is the year or the window for the Saints to do it. Pretender.

Tampa Bay: Tom Brady and the Bucs were supposed to be UNBEATABLE this season remember? Mike Evans, OJ Howard, Gronk, Leonard Fournette, LeSean McCoy with TB12??? If you believed the hype back then, you were probably in for a wake up call when they lost the season series against the Saints (including a 38-3 blowout loss), got manhandled by the Chicago defense, and struggled against some very mediocre teams (NYG, LAR, LAC, ATL). Yes the Bucs are good, but all the excitement and attention they got in the offseason was uncalled for, and their play this season as an average team should have been proof enough. I respect that Brady was able to leave the Patriots and still be successful (granted he has one of the best offensive coaches in the NFL in Bruce Arians), but their inconsistency as a team this year has me worried for them going into the playoffs– especially with their defense being so inexperienced. I think they’ll win a wildcard game (depending on the matchup), but I don’t expect much more than that. Pretender.

Seattle: I love Russell Wilson and what he brings to the table as a QB in the NFL. Without a doubt he has elite instincts and abilities (especially when he’s outside the pocket) that very few possess. However, the lack of talent on the defensive end of the ball worries me headed into the playoffs, which is unusual for a Seattle team. At the start of December, Seattle ranked LAST in yards allowed, which is just unacceptable as a playoff bound team. If they come across an Aaron Rogers or even a Tom Brady in the playoffs, their run will be very short lived with such poor play on defense. For these reasons, I have to put them as pretenders. Russ’ magic might sneak them a win, but I don’t expect them to hold out for a Super Bowl run.

Pretender/Contender: In the Hunt

Now, I’m not here to say who will or won’t get into the post season (we all know how crazy these in/out situations get), but I do want to highlight whether any of these teams still have a chance at making a legitimate run.

Miami: As Miami gained some traction as a legitimate squad in the NFL, I previously labeled them as a pretender, and I still have to stick by that. Despite an impressive record for a team that was supposed to continue their rebuild, an excellent defense, and a rising star in HC Brian Flores, I don’t think Tua is good enough to lead the Dolphins on a deep playoff run. Yes, he’s a rookie and needs some more help from his weapons, but from what I’ve seen the highly coveted rookie seems like the next Alex Smith to me. He is smart with the ball, fairly athletic, and has a good enough arm to make some impressive throws– but he’s no Mahomes, Rogers, or Wilson. There is certainly room for improvement, but as it stands, he functions as a middle of the pack game manager type QB. He’ll get his big chance to prove me wrong this week with the biggest game of his young career (Fitzpatrick out with COVID) and a chance to lead Miami to their first playoff appearance since 2016. To me though, the Dolphins are pretenders.

Baltimore: The Ravens really had a huge fallout through this back half of the season. After a 6-2 start, Baltimore had a tough 3 game skid that put them at 6-5 and seemingly on track to miss the playoffs. This setback could still cost them a playoff trip, but we’re here to talk about their power to make a run IF they do get in. At times, this offense appears absolutely lethal (7 games with 30 points or more), and at other times they look fairly stagnant. The low games are what make the Ravens a tough call as a contender. When they scored under 30, they were only a 3-3 team. Granted, that’s fairly average– but 1. This tells me Baltimore struggles to win when the offense can’t carry the load all game, 2. Average isn’t enough in the NFL playoffs. You need to be totally balanced with all 3 phases of the game (offense, defense, special teams) and if the offense can’t pull their own weight in the post season– Baltimore is doomed. We’ve seen, multiple times now, that when a team comes up with a game plan to contain Lamar Jackson in the postseason the team tends to crumble. Is Jackson ready to turn that streak around? It doesn’t feel like it… Pretender

Cleveland: This is the best Cleveland Browns team I have (personally) ever seen. The 1-2 punch between Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is lethal, the defense is playing at a superb level, and the offensive line is top 5 in the league in my book. This is a very, very solid team… BUT their weakness lies in the most crucial point of any team… the quarterback. When Baker Mayfield was drafted 1st overall in 2018, I rolled my eyes and said to myself ‘what a Browns thing to do’, and I still stand by that thought. Time and time again, Baker has proved to be shaky at best when it comes to accuracy (7th highest ‘bad throw %’ at 19% per Pro Football Reference), and inaccurate QBs will get pummeled in the post season. Let alone, we haven’t seen Mayfield play in a big game that was comparable to an NFL play off game since he was in college, making him very untested and unproven… I don’t trust that. Even with a top 5 line, elite running backs, and pro bowlers in Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper to throw to, Baker has still be very average (if not worse at times). Pretender.

Tennessee: The Titans have been a super solid team all year and have carried that momentum they had at the end of the year last season into this one. Derrick Henry is by far the best power running back in the game, and most definitely top 3 in terms of all around talent in the NFL. Ryan Tannehill has been on fire, allowing their young wideouts AJ Brown and Corey Davis to really have productive seasons. On the other side of the ball the defense is, without a doubt, built with star talent with guys like DaQuan Jones, Rashaan Evans and Kevin Byard headlining the group. Last year, the Titans really showed the league that they deserve to be up there with the elite teams in the NFL with a trip to the AFC championship game. This year, they’ve brought the same energy and intensity, despite a crazy COVID season. Early in the year I didn’t see them as continuing the hot play, but they’ve showed signs of legitimate contention with huge wins against the Colts, Bills, Ravens, and Bears (all teams with a shot to make the playoffs). If they want to make a deep run, they do need to make sure their special teams play stays steady (can’t have a repeat of what happened against the Colts on a Thursday Night game a few weeks ago), but if they can fix that dimension of their play then they can be serious contenders.

Indianapolis: Those who know me know that the Colts are my team, and that I think this is one of the best teams Indy has had in quite awhile. When healthy, I think they have a top 3 O-Line, a top 5 defense, and one of the best sets of running backs in the league (Marlon Mack has been out with an achillies injury all year remember). Plus, the wideouts are extremely underrated. Rookie Michael Pittman has shown signs of a budding star along with the undrafted Zach Pascal… not to mention star TY Hilton has been getting hot lately. However, the issue with this team has been Philip Rivers and his inability to make plays with his feet or make deep passes consistently. At several points this season the offense has gained a huge lead and become one dimensional to the point where the opposition was able to catch up and not allow Rivers to make plays by controlling their run game and blitzing Rivers to pressure him to make inaccurate throws (because he can’t escape the pocket at all). If the Colts get in, they need to have a totally healthy offensive line and Rivers needs to be perfect every possession for them to have a chance…but I don’t have faith in either variable so far. Sadly, I don’t think Indy has the QB talent to push them for a Super Bowl run. The league has changed and a pure pocket QB like Rivers won’t get them far if they do get in. Pretender.

WAS/DAL/NYG: Well, one of these teams are going to get into the playoffs. Dallas is essentially incompetent defensively and totally unbalanced on offense without Dak Prescott. Pretender.

The Giants are young and headed in the right direction. They need some help at wideout and the offensive line, but otherwise they are a very good young squad, but there is certainly lots of room to improve. However, without star RB Saquon Barkley, they have no shot. On the right track, but pretender.

Washington is the one team in this division who can win a surprise game or two in the playoffs. They, quietly, have one of the highest rated defenses in the NFL with (maybe) the best defensive line in the league. That’s a hot take, but there’s no denying that they have elite talent there. On the other hand, the offense has grown Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson into young stars. With Haskins out of the picture at QB, they aren’t totally awful there anymore. Alex Smith (if healthy enough to play) could very well carry the team to a wild card win. If it happens don’t be surprised. However, they are not ready for a Super Bowl win. Don’t get it twisted though… they are extremely close to being there. For this year though, Pretender.

Chicago: The Bears dug themselves into a hole by swapping starting QBs multiple times this season. I said it early on in the year when Trubisky was originally benched at halftime after a 3-0 start to the year– you can’t keep changing QBs and expect the offense to click or the team to keep morale high. This (probably) explains the team’s struggles to stay .500 (currently 8-7). They do possess a very talented defense and if they get into the playoffs they could surprise a few with a win in the wild card round, but this just isn’t the year for them based on what I’ve seen. They have the tools, but have consistently fallen short of expectations which forces me to list them as pretenders.

LA Rams/Arizona: After a decent start to the year with some huge divisional wins, the Rams have been severely inconsistent with a 9-6 record. Losses to the Jets, a depleted San Francisco team (twice), and a devastating divisional loss to the Seahawks have really slimmed their chances towards the end of the year. A matchup for a playoff spot (essentially) with division rival Arizona should prove to be a fun game to watch. Arizona, similarly, has had an extremely up and down sort of year– but I think they have a slight edge in offensive prowess and talent to top the Rams and potentially lock up a playoff berth. Despite the outcome, both teams have been far too inconsistent to make a legitimate run. LA has holes all over their roster and a QB who has failed to perform consistently on the big stages, while Arizona is young and untested all across the board. Both squads have to be labeled as pretenders now– especially in a highly competitive NFC.

Contenders: Buffalo, Kansas City, Green Bay, Tennessee.

Pretenders: Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Washington, NYG, Dallas, Chicago, LAR, Arizona

Pretender or Contender? (After Week 10)

After realizing not much was changing every 2 weeks, I wanted to give some time for the NFL to really shape up and sort out the good and not so good teams. Now, with 6 more weeks of football played, the playoff outlook has drastically changed since I last assessed things. Let’s get back to it then:

For reference:

Status of a contender = having enough talent to make the playoffs and seriously compete with the best of the best in the NFL to win a championship

Status of a pretender = does NOT mean the team is bad and uncapable of winning. Instead, it is a label given to teams with talent, but without the capability of going toe to toe with contenders/secure a playoff spot.

Still a Contender: Of all the teams I saw as contenders after 4 weeks, here are the ones that still sit pretty on the list.

Bills: Buffalo has a very complete team and are in prime position to win the AFC East. With key wins against Seattle, NYJ, and New England– they are sitting with 7-2 record and are sitting in the 1st place throne in their division. However, a surprise team has been slowly creeping up and may just compete for the division title… Anyway, Josh Allen is still in MVP talks (to me anyway), the Buffalo defense is balanced and super solid as a unit, and they have finally acquired a superstar offensive skill guy in Stefon Diggs– so they stay on the contender list without a doubt.

Steelers: As the only undefeated team in football, can we really even make a case for Pittsburgh to NOT be on the contending list? Big Ben, despite my worries, has been rock solid all season and has proven himself once again as an elite QB in the league– despite his age and recent surgery. Plus, the Steelers boast one of the deepest receiving groups in the league. Outside Juju, both Dionate Johnson and Chase Claypool have been outstanding playmakers and have been putting up impressive stats over the past few games. Pile the explosive passing attack on to a team with a dominant, top 3 defense in the league– and you have a contender… maybe even the best team in the AFC.

Colts: Sitting at a solid 6-3, Indy has been one of the better overall teams in the league. I’d argue that the Colts have a top 3-5 defense in the league (they’ve certainly played that way thus far), but they are hindered by the offense. In their 3 losses, we have gotten the turnover heavy version of QB Phillip Rivers, where he’s had crucial, game changing miscues (talk about a Game Winning Turnover…) that have ended badly for the Colts. However, with the emergence of Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines, and the steady improvement of the young receiving group (not to mention the fact that they have the best offensive line in the NFL), this team has all the makings of a contender– especially with a HUGE TNF win against division rival Tennessee to take the division lead.

Chiefs: You really can’t count out a team lead by Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs after what we saw last season– especially as they sit atop their division at 8-1, and their only loss coming from a very competitive LV Raider team. I do have concerns about the offensive line and the depth on defense– but they were also the same concerns I had last year and we all know how their post season run went… Easily a contender still.

Packers: After an explosive 4-0 start, the Packers have dropped some very winnable games and they have sort of came back down to Earth. A blowout loss to an inconsistent Tampa and a crushing divisional loss to the (2-5) Vikings raised some concern, but I think they will be just fine. The trio of Rogers, Jones, and Adams has been exciting to watch, and the defense has continued it’s solid play from last season– making them a legitimate contender and all but a lock for the divisional title.

Seahawks: After a 5-0 start, Seattle has dropped to 6-3 and has a lot less momentum than they did since I last assessed them. 2 of those losses have been to the Rams and Cardinals– two highly competitive teams who are all tied in the division. However, losing those two games is a huge setback in a tight divisional race and a very competitive NFC conference… Even at, say, 10-6– this team could miss the playoffs. I’m keeping them as contenders for now, but they are on veryyyyy thin ice here with their divisional record.

Rams: The LA Rams are so inconsistent to me. They’ll have huge wins against very good teams, but then crap the bed against a team that they should have no problem handling. The LAR defense, between stars Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, is insanely talented and can be dominant at times– but the offense is very up and down– mostly due to the recent QB play. At this point, it is almost safe to say that Jared Goff is a bust. Not because he’s awful QB, but when you take a guy 1st overall– you expect much more dominant play, and I really believe that without an offensive genius as HC like Sean McVay, Goff would be on the bench or playing somewhere else by now. Even so, Goff has been super average– but they have gotten the job done. This past week’s win against Seattle was HUGE to keep them on my contender list. The next few weeks are pivotal however, and they need to keep earning divisional wins to keep up with the others in a tight NFC conference.

NEW Contenders:

Cardinals: I have known how sneaky talented the Cardinals have been since last year, but Kyler Murray has really surpassed my expectations and has grown steadily as an NFL QB. The team has really put Kyler in a position to grow, mature, and make big plays– especially with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins. At the moment, Arizona sits atop the NFC West with an undefeated divisional record, and a huge win against a dominant Buffalo team this past week. I love the explosiveness of their offense, and the defense is sneaky good. As we know, hot teams like this usually have opportunity to make nice playoff runs (see last year’s Titans), and I have a shaky feeling Arizona could be that team this season… look out for it.

Raiders: I love the makeup of this football team, but I thought the core pieces on both sides of the ball were just a bit too young to start producing at a high rate just yet– however, the Raiders have seriously proven me wrong. LV has huge wins against Kansas City, Denver, and the Chargers– keeping them undefeated within the division and two games behind KC for first place. Gruden has really made scrappy group of young guys into a solid overall squad and could seriously contend for a division title or at the least a wild card spot. They get to take on Mahomes and Chiefs again this week, and this game could have HUGE implications for the playoff hopes for the Raiders. If they can pull out a win and stay hot, look out for them as underdogs to steal the AFC West.

Pretenders:

The Entire NFC East: At this point, it isn’t really worth making separate writing blocks for any of these squads. All of them are just flat out bad– especially when you look at some of the other NFC squads. Washington and Dallas have tremendous QB issues, New York lacks an offensive line and offensive weapons (remember Saquon is hurt), and I guess that leaves Philly– who at this point is the division leader and will probably be the winner in the end. However, I expect whoever wins this division to get smacked in the wildcard round quite honestly.

49ers: I was really hopeful for San Fran this season, but it has been an utter disaster for them. The once dominant defense is extremely injury plagued, Jimmy G is either hurt of playing awfully, and they have fallen far, far behind the rest of their divisional opponents in the race to earn a spot in the post season. Unfortunately, I don’t see their season turning around anytime soon. At least, for San Fran sports fans,

Dolphins: Now, the Dolphins have been extremely good over the past few weeks– much better than anyone probably imagined was possible at this point in their rebuild. They decided to bench Fitzmagic for their 1st round draft choice in Tua– a move that I questioned heavily at the time due to the hip injury Tua had been recovering from. However, he has been much more mobile and confident than I imagined, but he has not put up eye popping numbers or anything. What I love about Miami is their defense– which Brian Flores has really brought to life. Despite all the good, I don’t think they can grab a playoff spot without the Bills falling apart– even if that happens I don’t see them making any sort of spectacular run in the AFC. They do have room to move up on the list though, with huge games coming up against KC, Vegas, and the Bills.

Titans: After falling apart on TNF this past week, it’s hard to say that the Titans are going to go on a magical playoff run again. Unlike many more obvious contenders, Tennessee has only 1 impressive win, which was a blowout victory against Buffalo, but other than that they’ve grinded out narrow wins or lost. I think they’re a decent team with a dominant run game and underrated air attack, but the defense is up and down. Plus, the special teams has been more than inconsistent (especially when you look at the disaster of a second half they had against the Colts)– which has cost them heavily. They will continue to compete with Indy for the division title, and will probably steal a wildcard spot– but it won’t be easy and I haven’t seen enough dominant play for me to deem them a contender.

Saints: I have seen flashes of defensive dominance and excellence, but as I’ve said before, Drew Brees does not look the same after last year’s thumb injury. Also, Michael Thomas has never been able to get going and has been sidelined with injury much of the season. The offense seems out of sync to me– yet they are still in prime position to win the division… unless Drew Brees misses significant time with his rib injury from this weekend. The reason I list them here is because the NFC is tough and I just haven’t seen enough out them to list them as a legitimate Super Bowl squad. It can always change for them.

Buccaneers: Brady and the Bucs really started to get hot after a tricky start, but now they have lost both divisional matchups with the division leading Saints which puts them at a severe disadvantage. They do have a big shot to gain some ground over the Saints with Drew Brees being sidelined with an unknown return date. If they can get some big wins and take a dominant lead in the division– they could definitely move up.

Ravens: I’ve noted before that the Ravens need Lamar to be elite and on top of his game at all times for them to have a legitimate shot as contenders– and he still has been streaky. Before, Lamar was allowed to be streaky and the defense was good enough to keep them in complete control of the division– but now with their defense a bit weaker/older and the division becoming much more competitive he has minimal room for error. The Steelers hold a dominant lead for first, and the Browns are lurking right behind them. Right now I’m not convinced they can seriously push for a Super Bowl– let alone the fact that I don’t even know whether they’ll earn a post season spot.

Browns: The Browns are finally utilizing their super talented roster. Their offensive lines is probably top 5 in the league– which allows their dominant two headed backfield duo to run up and the down the field all game long. They also boast a top 15 defense in the league and have potential to sneak up on the Ravens as a wild card team. I need to see more consistency out of Baker Mayfield and a few more key wins for me to really be convinced to take them off this list though.

So, we have our verdict for the top teams in the league. There were some tough choices to be made, but at this point in the season and with what I have seen– these are my best assessments. After a few more weeks, I Imagine we will have a much clearer version of the playoff picture– which is where things will really start to get interesting

Pretender or Contender? (After Week 4)

Another exciting 2 weeks of football has been played and now comes the time where I swap teams between lists, eliminate some teams, and attempt to predict the eventual Super Bowl matchup.

For reference:

Status of a contender = having enough talent to make the playoffs and seriously compete with the best of the best in the NFL to win a championship

Status of a pretender = does NOT mean the team is bad and uncapable of winning. Instead, it is a label given to teams with talent, but without the capability of going toe to toe with contenders/secure a playoff spot.

AFC:

Bills (4-0): I can’t say enough about this Bills squad. Josh Allen is in the MVP race, their defense is playing at a high level, and they recorded 2 impressive victories against the Rams and Raiders the past 2 weeks. In those games, Allen has put up over 500 yards, 4 TDs and only 1 interception. This team is really good, and running away with the division. Look for them to battle the Chiefs for a 1st overall seed in the AFC. Easily a contender.

Titans (3-0): Since the last edition of Contender/Pretender, the Titans have only played one game against Minnesota, where they narrowly won. Tannehill was underwhelming (23/37 321 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT) and the defense let a struggling Vikings team score 30. The lone bright spot was Derrick Henry was dominant with *almost* 120 yards and 2 TDs (4.6 YPC). However, I haven’t seen enough to change their status just yet- they still sit on my pretender list.

Patriots (2-2): The Patriots have caught a very tough break as of recent. They started off the 2 week period with an impressive win against the Raiders, but then were struck by the virus and lost to the Chiefs without Cam Newton (COVID). New England also received word that star corner Stephon Gilmore had tested positive for COVID and are now unable to practice for the time being. A rough couple of weeks like this would be worrisome for most other teams, but we are talking about the Patriots. I’ve seen Belichick come back from similar situations (slow starts, injuries, etc.), so I have no doubt that they can only go up from here- especially considering how well the defense has been playing. I’m gonna keep the Pats on my contender list… for now.

Steelers (3-0): Another team who were only able to get in 1 game in this 2 week span (Titans COVID outbreak postponed their matchup in week 4). Pittsburgh was able to pull together a decent win against the winless Texans– where their defense was very dominant (5 sacks and 1 INT). Big Ben looks healthy, Conner has remained active and is the undisputed #1 ball carrier we all knew he could be. I really do like this Steelers team and like to think they could steal the division from the heavily favorited Ravens… with that being said, the Steelers are a pretty obvious contender in my eyes.

Ravens (3-1): Baltimore has dominated in all 3 of their wins… against subpar teams. The only legitimate squad they’ve faced has been Kansas City- and they were toyed with through most of the game (L 34-20). Obviously, the Ravens have a very good defense and one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL (Lamar Jackson is a pretty good QB), and I still don’t see them as a contender. However, I said it before and I will say it as much as I need to, Lamar needs to prove that he can face adversity and pull through against great teams (especially in the playoffs).

Browns (3-1): Cleveland is 3-1????? WOW they must be a contender! Things have changed right?!?! Uhhh, not really. They’ve won against 3 really poor teams and have allowed a TON of points (OPP PPG = 31.5). Yes, that means they have also scored a bunch of points to compete and win- but they have only faced one serious contender (Baltimore) and they were completely plowed through. Please do not fall for this trap. The Browns are still a pretender, plain and simple.

Colts (3-1): Last edition, I was on the fence about this squad. They were upset by a pretty bad Jaguars team week 1 and then finally seemed to catch their stride against the Vikings (also not that great of a team right now). However, I needed to see some more from Indy to be certain about their status going forward. How does 1st in opponent points and yards, 5th in lowest opponent completion percentage, 6th in allowed rush yards, and 4th in fourth most forced turnovers. This is the type of production you would expect out of such a talented group (Darius Leonard, DeForest Buckner, Justin Houston, Xavier Rhodes, and so on). Plus, Rivers has been a very good game manager, while rookie back Johnathan Taylor has been very impressive with his fill in for the injured Marlon Mack. Now, with a 3 game win streak and the best rated defense in the league- I can confidently say this team looks like a contender.

Chiefs (4-0): The Chiefs, since last time, have beaten the Ravens and a short handed Patriots team– regardless of the circumstances, both wins have been against legitimate contenders. With the Chargers sliding downhill with losses and the Raiders (I think) not being quite up to the task of winning this division- I think the Chiefs are primed to run away with another division title. Pat Mahomes has been electric and he has gotten help from his defense the past couple weeks. Look for KC to keep the ball rollin’ and sit on the contender list for awhile now.

Raiders (2-2): After a super promising start, the Raiders have lost their past 2 matchups (New England and Buffalo). Granted they held their own against the Bills and gave the Patriots a fight, they lost both games– which shows me they can’t hang with contenders. They have all the right pieces for the future to be great, but they aren’t quite there yet. Pretender.

Chargers (1-3): The Chargers are a really tough team that is going to compete every single matchup. Justin Herbert looks like the future of the franchise, and the defense is extremely solid. However, they just haven’t gotten the job done against the less than average Panthers and the up and down Tampa squad. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen enough in them at this point to keep them as contenders to this point… so they have to be pretenders.

NFC:

Washington (1-3): Over the course of 4 games, I think Washington has shown flashes of becoming one of the better defense in the league in the near future. That front seven is very very talented and the defensive backfield gets better every year. However, they are just no ready to compete for a title with the state of their offense. Haskins is officially benched for Kyle Allen in the upcoming week 5 and Alex Smith was listed as the #2 option if Allen gets hurt. So the young Haskins has a very uncertain future with the team. Outside of the QB issue, the line is aging, the run game has been subpar, and they have no real receiving threats outside of Terry McLaurin. They remain “in the hunt” at this point solely because of the state of the NFC East. Pretender.

Eagles (1-2-1): Philly has probably been one of the most disappointing teams to watch in football. Carson Wentz has gone from one of the most promising young QB talents to a lost cause. He’s been off target a ton (has the most missed throws in the league) and has turned the ball over at an extremely high rate. Yes, I understand that the weapons he has are not great, but he showed us previously that he can work with what’s he given. The great QBs in NFL history can turn practice squad guys into weapons with their arm– and Carson, thus far, has not shown that ability to be elite. Tack on a swiss cheese offensive line, questionable play calling, and a defense that appears lost at times– this team is simply not good. However, they sit atop the division with a (not so) staggering 1-2-1 record. Don’t be fooled though, if this team somehow manages to sneak into the wildcard round they will more than likely finish the season with another 1 and done appearance. Pretender.

Cowboys (1-3): Offensively, this team is extremely efficient. Dak Prescott seems to be thriving in HC Mike McCarthy’s new offense (#1 in Pass Yards with 1,690 through 4 games) — which makes sense considering he has Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Mike Gallup, and Zeke Elliot to work with. However, without the disastrous mismanagement the Falcons had late in a game that was already over, the Cowboys would be 0-4. Why? The answer is simple… their defense is atrocious. The past 3 weeks (which includes their W against Atlanta) the Cowboys defense has allowed 126 points… which averages out to 42/game. You don’t have to look at any other statistic or be an NFL analyst to know that the number is insanely high and unacceptable. If you want to win a championship in the NFL, you need to play defense and Cowboys seem completely unable of doing so– making them a total pretender.

Packers (4-0): The Packers have continued to roll through the league while staying red hot offensively (averaging 38 PPG). Both Aaron Jones and Aaron Rogers have been phenomenal, despite the absences of DeVante Adams and Allen Lazard at wideout. On top of that, the defense has been excellent in supporting the offense (12 total sacks, 5 from Za’Darius Smith) and giving the team a great chance to win every week. Overall, Green Bay is extremely balanced and I really don’t see any weak points on their team. I really consider them to be the most complete team in the NFC– which obviously keeps them as contenders on my list.

Bears (3-1): The Bears have a nice record, a top 10 defense, and plenty of offensive weapons. What makes me question things is their decision to pull Mitch Trubisky, despite a very productive start, for Nick Foles. Yes, Foles came in and pulled off a comeback against the Falcons, but then came in and played very poorly against Indy (granted they are the #1 ranked defense right now). He missed several key throws and was a huge reason the Bears were unable to keep up with the Colts. An early season QB switch when the team is 2-0, playing well, and looking to keep rolling can be detrimental to the team- especially after how Foles played week 4. Unless Foles comes back the next couple of weeks and impresses me, I have to keep them as pretenders.

Buccaneers (3-1): Last edition, I looked right past the Bucs with their slow start. To be fair, a loss to the Saints and a short margin win against a rebuilding Carolina was NOT a good look. However, after dominating Denver and Brady leading the team with 5 TDs against a very good Chargers defense- I might just have to change my opinion on them. Their defense definitely needs to be more consistent, but they have shown flashes of excellent play. For now, the Bucs will be moved to the contender list, but they have a tight leash with me.

Panthers (2-2): The Panthers are very much in rebuild mode, yet they’ve stacked up two very impressive wins against the Chargers and the Cardinals in back to back weeks without CMC– which is extremely better than what I thought they’d do without their best player. Carolina also has a tough schedule coming up, so I’ll keep my eye out to see how they do (Atlanta, Chicago coming up the next 2 games). I’m going to move them up from a “no show” on my list to a Pretender.

Saints (2-2): I was impressed with how the Saints competed with the Packers in a shootout, but was very disappointed in their play against a struggling Lions squad (which they still managed to win). This Saints team, even when Michael Thomas was healthy, has just not looked the same as the past few seasons and I worry for them. The Bucs and the Panthers have been extremely competitive and if New Orleans isn’t careful they could easily slip to 3rd place and miss the playoffs in an extremely competitive NFC conference. They still haven’t shown me anything to make me take them off the pretender list… and with more disappointing play they could even end up off my list entirely.

Seahawks (4-0): Along with the Packers, Seattle is one of the more balanced teams in the league (let alone the NFC). They have an excellent defense and the probable MVP on offense with Russell Wilson, who has been electric. With the state of their division and their dominance over all teams that have come their way so far, this is an easy contender label.

Rams (3-1): The Rams have shown flashes of excellence, but their 3 wins are all against NFC East teams…. let that sink in. Plus they barely got away with a W against the Giants. Yikes. They did, however, play well against the undefeated Bills, so I’ll give credit where it’s due. 3 wins and one loss is a great start, but I need to see them pull off some wins against some better teams to feel a bit more confident. However, I’m going to keep them on the contender list due to their star power and spot within the division.

Cardinals (2-2): The Cardinals started off with 2 very impressive wins, but followed those with 2 disappointing losses to Detroit and Carolina. This team definitely has all the right pieces, but has shown some inconsistency along the way. The Murray and Hopkins duo is elite, plus a young defense, young and talented HC in Kliff Kingsbury– this team gobs potential. AT this point though, the two losses are tough, especially in a super competitive division. Pretender is my final verdict for now… and they are on watch to drop off the list entirely.

49ers (2-2): The Niners have so much talent on their roster– most of whom are injured. They are depleted on the defensive line, struggling to find a tolerable backup to replace Jimmy G, and they are coming off a very bad loss to a terrible Eagles team– which is alarming. Their division is very tough and playoff spots are going to be very hard to earn in the NFC, especially with all their injuries at key positions. I have no choice but to list them as pretenders and put them on watch to be dropped off the list.

Final Post Week 4 List:

Contenders: Bills, Chiefs, Seahawks, Colts, Ravens, Steelers, Rams, Packers, Buccaneers, Seahawks.

Pretenders: Titans, Raiders, Cardinals, Bears, Washington, Philly, Cowboys, 49ers, Saints, Browns Chargers.

Pretender or Contender? An Overview of the NFL’s Best Teams

By: Bryce Wadsworth

Week 2:

After two weeks of action (without fans for the most part), the NFL has been very interesting to watch. Despite having no pre-season and an odd offseason workout program- games have been fairly clean. There has only been an average of 12 penalties per game so far (according to the Football Database site). However, with a lack of game speed contact reps before the start of regular season play- injuries should be expected at a high rate. We definitely got a taste of that this week with stars like Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Nick Bosa, Malik Hooker, Marlon Mack, Drew Locke, Soloman Thomas, and many more suffering significant injuries (many were season ending). Regardless, the NFL has definitely been exciting to watch, and no matter who gets hurt- there has to be a winner at the end. So without further ado, here are my “Contenders and Pretenders” so far this season.

For reference:

Status of a contender = having enough talent to make the playoffs and seriously compete with the best of the best in the NFL to win a championship

Status of a pretender = does NOT mean the team is bad and uncapable of winning. Instead, it is a label given to teams with talent, but without the capability of going toe to toe with contenders/secure a playoff spot.

AFC:

Bills (2-0): Since the drafting of Josh Allen and the assemblage of an elite defense- I always thought the Bills were one big time playmaker away from being serious contenders- despite the domination of New England in that division. Acquiring Stefon Diggs from the Vikings was HUGE for Buffalo. He has already stacked up 239 yards on just 16 receptions- plus a touchdown- in just 2 games. Granted, the Bills have played two weaker divisional opponents- they have shown explosiveness, elite defensive ability, and great discipline as a team. I really think this team can finally be considered a legitimate division winner and compete to win the Super Bowl this season. Contender.

Titans (2-0): We all remember that historic playoff run that Derrick Henry and the Titans made last season- and so far a 2-0 start is probably making football fans in Tennessee very happy. Can we call them contenders this season? I don’t know. The first two weeks ended up in very very close games against two subpar teams (Denver and Jacksonville). However, Tannehill has been surgical with 6 TDs and an impressive 71 completion percentage to go a long with a ton of yardage. Henry has been fairly productive as well in terms of yardage, but the so called “King” has a pretty average YPC (3.55). To say the least, this team isn’t the most exciting to watch- but they have gotten the job done so far. Until I see them play in some more competitive contests with better teams, I can’t quite call them a contender yet. Gonna have to go with Pretender status at this point.

Chiefs (2-0): The reigning Super Bowl champs still remain hot this season. Mahomes has been his usual MVP caliber self- while they still have talented weapons on offense like Hill, Kelce, Hardman, Watkins, and the impressive rookie RB Edwards-Helaire (not to mention an improved offensive line). My only concern is still their lack of depth on the defensive side. Outside of Chris Jones and Tyrann Mathieu- who on that defense could step up in big situations? However, this was my huge concern last year and Mahomes was able to carry them all the way to the championship win. This is an easy one. Contender.

Raiders (2-0): Now this is an interesting team. It seems as though Gruden is making things work with Derek Carr (Over 500 yards, 4 TDs/0 INTs, with a 73.5 completion %). The most intriguing thing has been watching the development of the young players the team has brought in. Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller are offensive superstars. The young, revamped defense has played pretty well- despite multiple questionable draft selections. Gruden and Mayock have done an exceptional job at building a young, hard-nosed team of ballers. I really think they’ve brought back that Raider “chip on the shoulder” old school style- which as a football fan you love. Th team certainly has promise, but the lack of depth at receiver and corner/linebacker discourage me. The Raiders are good, but probably play in the best division in the AFC- so a playoff appearance is going to be awfully hard to come by unless they win a bunch of divisional matchups. I guess we will see- but for now they sit on my Pretender list.

Ravens (2-0): This already seems to be a second straight season of Baltimore’s dominance… in the regular season at least. The Ravens have already had two blowout victories over Houston and Cleveland- but the real test comes this week against KC. The reigning MVP, Lamar Jackson, has been surgical as a passer (close to an 80% completion percentage) and is always a threat as a runner. The defense has also been the best in the league statistically (1st in the league in points allowed and forced turnovers, while also putting up 6 sacks in 2 weeks). This team is no joke… in the regular season. The past few years, the Ravens have been excellent in the regular season, but then seem to fall apart in the playoffs. I need to see Lamar Jackson perform at an MVP level in a playoff game before I really make them a legitimate contender, but at the same time they just aren’t a pretender. They have a legitimate shot to win a title, but they need their young QB to carry his load when it matters. Final Verdict: Contender.

(see my initial thoughts on Lamar from 2017 here.. SPOILER, my QB ranking was a bust, but I think still evaluated him better than most ‘notable’ NFL “analysts”. Just saying)

Steelers (2-0): Pittsburgh was a team I had doubts about. The offense was near stagnant last season with James Conner banged up and the loss of Big Ben for the year- but they did do a good job building up their defense- which is now (I think) the most versatile in the league. They have stars at all 3 levels with Stephon Tuitt, Cam Hayward, Devin Bush, TJ Watt, Joe Haden (yeah he still has it a bit), and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Not only are the names great on paper- but they are also extremely productive. Pittsburgh, after 2 weeks, has the most pressures in the NFL. This defense has been elite, but the offense has also picked up. Big Ben looks like he has looked healthy and the running game is coming back to life. With that division realistically only being open to Baltimore and the Steelers, I would put the Steelers as potential contenders. The offense needs to pick up and help out the defense- but they still stand as one of the better AFC teams.

Patriots (1-1): We are used to bad starts to the season from New England in hopes that the dynasty run is finally over, and this was our most promising looking year yet- with the departure of Brady. However, the Patriots (in Patriot fashion) nonchalantly plugged in a former MVP level QB into their offense for a cheap 1 million dollar “prove it” type of deal. Week one he looked sharp and effective both through the air and on the ground. Week two he looked good too, but the Patriots ran into a really tough Seattle team. I don’t think they’re quite as dominant on defense this season (at least not yet), but come on, let’s be real- a Bill Belichick led team is almost ALWAYS a contender. Until I see a team of his really struggle and miss the playoffs, I never count that squad out.

Colts (1-1): As a Colts fan, I had so much hope for this team. The defense last season was dominant- and then got extremely better with the additions of DeForest Buckner, Xavier Rhodes, and rookie Julian Blackmon. However, Week 1 the unit looked atrocious- allowing the Jaguars to walk all over them the entire game. On top of that Philip Rivers continued his hot streak of throwing the ball to the wrong team (several times) AND Marlon Mack tore his achillies early in the game. Week one was not a good way to start the season. Fortunately the entire team bounced back with a dominant week two over the Vikings. The defense looked stellar- holding the Vikings to 11 points, under 200 total yards, while piling up 3 interceptions and 3 sacks. Quite the difference in defensive play. At the same time, rookie RB Jonathan Taylor looks like he has the potential to be a premier bell cow in the league. If he keeps it up, the defense stays stout, and Rivers stops turning the ball over- this team should win the division. This is a team we still need to see more of to really nail down their identity. They’re on the fence for me- but after such a drastic improvement from weeks 1 to 2, I’m going to keep them leaning more towards the contender side.

Chargers (1-1): The Chargers are GOOD. An already elite defense adds an elite corner like Chris Harris and great things happen. The team also did a good job filling a Melvin Gordon sized hole with excellent depth players like Josh Kelley and Justin Jackson- while Austin Ekeler has shown he can be an every down back in the NFL with a solid (5.1 YPC rate). The team has been great, and rookie 1st round QB Justin Herbert looked exceptional in his very first NFL start against KC this past week. Although LA lost, they made things extremely tough for the Chiefs- who still managed to pull an OT victory. I think the Chargers are a legitimate team and could sneak a division title… maybe. Probably not. Either way- they are definitely contenders.

Jaguars (1-1): The Jags looked much better in the first two weeks (I’m finishing things up the Friday after they lost to Miami on a TNF showdown. BUT I’m still only evaluating based on the first 2 games) than anyone could have anticipated. They shocked the Colts week one and really came to play against a solid Titans squad the following Sunday. Minshew has looked super precise throwing the ball, James Robinson has turned out to be a steal UDFA back, and the young group of receivers have been great. Not to mention the young, new look defense has done a good job holding their own. I think Jacksonville is headed the right direction as a team, but they aren’t quite ready to be contenders. They are extremely young on both sides of the ball and are very obviously in the middle of a rebuild. Despite their hot and impressive start, I have to list them as Pretenders.

NFC:

Cardinals (2-0): The Cardinals are one of the most exciting offenses to watch. A young mobile star QB in Kyler Murray, a first ballot HOF receiver in Larry Fitzgerald, a solid RB in Kenyan Drake, and an elite WR at the peak of his prime ion DeAndre Hopkins. The young, up and coming team is ranked 6th in total offense and is even playing really solid defense- although they could get better at holding teams to less yard totals (allowing 120 rush yards per game and 220 pas yards per game). Overall, this team is much better than people give them credit for. Sadly, this team plays in the best division in football- having to compete with playoff spots with Seattle, the Rams, and San Francisco. I don’t think they win the division, but with all the injuries to the stout 49er defense- they have a chance to steal a wildcard spot. Until we see how the next couple weeks go though, I have no choice but to list them as a Pretender… for now.

Rams (2-0): After a disappointing 2019 season (9-7 after a Super Bowl appearance the season before), the Rams look really solid. Goff has been excellent with near 70% completion percentage, 285 YPG, and 3 TDs. The defense looks renewed with shutdown DB Jalen Ramsey teamed up with the best defensive lineman in the game- Aaron Donald. A 2-0 start is solid- especially with such a dominating win against Philly. The big question how they can perform within the division. The 49ers are beat up with injuries, but the Seahawks and Cardinals are both very solid teams. I think the Rams can and will hold their own against their divisional opponents- but only time and games will tell. For now, the Rams have impressed me enough to earn a spot on the Contender list. I love the talent on both sides of the ball, and I trust McVay to have a bounce back season.

Seahawks (2-0): Russel Wilson WILL win an MVP this season- or at the very least he should get a damn 1st place vote for the first time. As always, Wilson has been nothing but electric (he already over 600 total pass yards and 9 yards in just 2 games. WOW). The defense is also playing at a high level, ranking top 10 in total defensive stats and holding off two high powered offenses in Atlanta and New England. There isn’t much else to say, other than this team is elite. Despite their tough divisional matchups, I think they come out on top and earn a 1st round bye this season. They may even be my pick to make the Super Bowl this season for the NFC… we will see. Nonetheless, they are an easy pick for Contender.

Packers (2-0): The Packers offense has been red hot thus far. Aaron Jones is averaging 6.9 YPC. I’ll say it again- Aaron Jones (with Aaron Rogers at QB) is rushing the football at a rate of almost SEVEN yards per touch. That is incredible, and I give props to Matt Lafleur for how he has designed that offense. My issue with them is the defense. They have all the pieces to be successful (Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, etc.), yet they have let up 55 points in 2 games. In order for the Packers to be truly dominant, the defense needs to hold up their end of the bargain- relying on your offense to score 40+ plus EVERY game just to win is not a good gameplan. In the NFL, teams just do not stay red hot like this offensively all 16 games. So unless the defense starts to help out, it could be a tougher season down the stretch. However, given the status of the Vikings and Lions- the Packers will have a good chance to win the division. For now, they remain a contender– but don’t take these two explosive 40 point performances to keep happening unless the defense gets going.

Bears (2-0): This team has been very interesting to watch. Their strong point is definitely defense- with a loaded set of starters headlined by Khalil Mack (defense is ranked top 3 in total defensive). We know they are good on that side of the ball, but the big surprise has been Mitch Trubisky and the offense. People (especially one particular contributor of this website *cough* *cough*) had already written off the UNC product and were looking at ways in which the Bears could move on. However Mitch has had a nice turnaround season thus far (5 TDs, 2 picks, and almost 500 yards so far). Although the numbers are quite average- he has shown improvements as both a decision maker and a thrower. Then again, they have 2 wins against 2 struggling franchises (Giants and Lions) who have yet to win a game this year. As much as I hate to say it, Mitch, Mack, and the Bears look like Pretenders.

Washington (1-1): Washington was very impressive week one with a huge come from behind victory over Philadelphia. However, things came back down to earth for the “Football Team” (still not over that name) with a punishing 30-15 loss against a promising Cardinals squad. Not the worst start in the world right? The defense has racked up a total of 11 sacks in two weeks and young offensive weapon Terry McLaurin has been more than impressive so far this season. BUT, this team is just not ready to compete at the top of the league with the big boys. I have always had concerns with Dwayne Haskins as an NFL QB prospect and he continues to show signs of being a bust. Ownership is under tons of fire at the moment as well (we all know why). Head Coach Ron Rivera is dealing with very serious medical issues as well. So, you really can’t expect this team to do much with the 2020 season. Although they are a Pretender right now, they do show some promise in years to come.

Cowboys (1-1): Dallas lost week one to a solid Rams team and somehow managed to comeback down 9 with no timeouts and 2 minutes to go in the game (Falcons fans, I’m very sorry). Not the most conventional 1-1 start around the league, but hey- I’m sure they’ll live with it. I was never really high on this team because of their lack of depth defensively (plus the loss of Leighton Vander Esch) and the inconsistent, shaky play of Dak Prescott, and I still feel that way. Yes they scored 40 points last week, but the Falcons defense is NOT all that great and plus they were held in check against the Rams. I could be wrong, but this Dallas team just feels like a Pretender once again. They have some tough games coming up though, so maybe they could change my mind?

49ers (1-1): Man oh man things are not looking good for the 2019 NFC Champs. Star D-linemen Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas both suffered season ending ACL tears. On top of that, offensive stars Jimmy G and George Kittle are out multiple weeks- missing crucial early season reps/games. Playing in such a tough division, with every single game being essential to their playoff hopes- it is tough to keep the Niners in my playoff picture prediction. Although they were dominant week two against a bad Jets team, they already are 0-1 in the division after a tough loss to Arizona. The 49ers have a relatively easy schedule the next 3 weeks (Giants, Eagles, Dolphins), so if they can hang around and win a 2 or 3 of those- they could stay in the race. For now, they are in my Pretender list.

Saints: (1-1): Is it just me, or do the Saints just look bad? Yes they took advantage of an inexperienced Buccaneer defense week one, but they were completely outplayed by a Raiders team they probably should have beat. One of the most accurate and consistent QBs of all time has been missing some easy throws and made some bad decisions- and you NEVER see him do that stuff. Call me crazy, but I don’t know if this team really has it this season. The window for another Drew Brees championship win seems to have closed up after two devastating playoffs losses in a row. They will more than likely win their division- but I have serious concerns for them as a contender… Until I see improvement (especially from the defense who has given up nearly 60 points in 2 weeks), this is a Pretender.

Buccaneers (1-1): Tom Brady, Gronk, Shady McCoy, Leonard Fournette, Godwin, Mike Evans, and HC Bruce Arians. This team sounds stacked and should have no issues winning ball games…right? As I did when Cleveland assembled their “dream team” offense of OBJ and Jarvis Landry with Baker Mayfield- I never bought in to the hype of this Buccaneer team. Brady looked awfully average against a pretty poor Saints defense (2 TDs, 2 picks and only 239 yards) and again in week 2 against a “full-rebuild” mode Panthers team (1 TD, 1 Pick, 219 yards). So far, I’m not sold AT ALL on this team. I’ve seen nothing that screams “Super Bowl Champion Team”- especially with a young, inexperienced defense that has been below average so far. Considering the toughness in the NFC and the fact that I think New Orleans takes the division title- Tampa is a wildcard team at best… sorry to the Brady fans, but this team seems to be a Pretender.

Now, let us all keep in mind that this only a general assessment after only 2 weeks of NFL play. Teams and players may be rusty, not 100% in game shape, recovering from off-season injury etc. So, when we come back to analyze play from weeks 3 and 4- things could look quite different. But, for now here is your Pretender vs Contender final list after week 2:

Contenders:

Bills, Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, Patriots, Colts, Chargers, Rams, Seahawks, and Packers.

Pretenders:

Titans, Raiders, Jaguars, Cardinals, Bears, Washington, Cowboys, 49ers, Saints, and Buccaneers.